Prayer and Support a Hundred Years Ago and the Struggle of Ministry

It was during the visit the other day to Takada Advent Church.  I noticed there was a small picture frame of an old document hanging on the wall inside the vestry.   It was dated December 4, 1910, and it read that a third of the startup costs for “Nippon Sei Ko Kai Takada Outstation” was a donation by will from a devoted female minister of St. George’s Church of Toronto, Canada and the rest was from the theological students of Trinity College in the University of Toronto.  

It was this church in Takada that Revd. Hollis Hamilton Corey, who came to Japan in 1919 and later founded Okaya St. Barnaba’s Church, was first dispatched in Japan.  When researching the General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada, I found a handwritten letter from Revd. Corey to the then Bishop Hamilton, which said:

“Takada, Monday, February 6, 1922.  To my dear Bishop.  I thank you for your kind letter from the bottom of my heart.  I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Mrs. Hamilton for sending me the genuine Canadian cheese.  It was if I could hear the sound of my nostalgic hometown.  Until now, we have been able to live on our salary, debt-free.  However, our monthly salary has always been running out 10 days before our next salary since we have been here.  For instance, we have not been able to buy any clothes since we came here.”  

In this letter is addressed the wholehearted attitude of the missionaries taking on the mission given to each in an unfamiliar land with a never-rich life.  I would like to keep in mind that we are here now because of the prayers and support of everyone from the Anglican Church of Canada one hundred years ago, and the “struggles” of these missionaries.   

The Rt Revd Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara

“I Want to be an Absolute Doting Parent on This Matter.”

Below is an article written by Junya Tsuzuku, the Mayor of Hida City, for the Gifu Shimbun dated February 11, 2018. 

“My second son has autism with the highest level of severity.  He is a seventh-grader at a special education school and is receiving help from many supporters.  We found out about his disorder when he was two years old.  Signs of delayed language skills were seen, and in sheer anxiety, we visited a doctor, and he was diagnosed with autism.  Although he still faces many difficulties, he’s a dear child.” “As I was looking at him every day to find his good points, I happened to notice that I was doing the same thing with my co-workers in the office and started managing an organization which develops its strengths.  I grew aware of the socially vulnerable, not only the disabled children, but the sick, the financially difficult people, and single-parent families, and felt strongly in wanting to help those in difficult circumstances.  Around this time as a prefectural official, I had my wish come true and was able to work for the disabled children and people’s support.  I devoted myself to the work supporting the severely mentally and physically disabled from a medical aspect. 

“Even now as I have become mayor, the support for the socially vulnerable is the highest priority of the city administration.  Working in these fields is for my own child, to be honest.  If a public servant like myself could provide sufficient support, many people will be saved.  It is my son who made me accomplish this, and it means he is the one who did the good in the world.  I want to be an absolute doting parent on this matter.”

Certainly, the words Lord Jesus Christ heard from Heaven when baptized by John on Jordan River was “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well please.”  Luke 3:22) Jesus Christ also loved each and every one of us as “dearly beloved son.”  With this love, we are asked to love our neighbors conditionally as if we are absolute doting parents. 

The Rt Revd Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara

A New Theology in the COVID-19 Era

I participated as a panelist in an online streaming event, “Theology + Education 2.0 in the Corona Era,” hosted by Kirisuto Shimbun, Co. Ltd., on March 20th, along with my valued friends Professor Katsuhiro Kohara of Doshisha University and Professor Motoo Nakamichi of Kwansei Gakuin University.  Each panelist discussed about the current state of the university they serve on, and going beyond discussing the alternative of online or on-campus learning, we talked about the way of life in “post-COVID” Christianity, schools, and churches.  Prof. Kohara and Prof. Nakamichi made me aware of various discoveries.

Prof. Nakamichi pointed out that “Online learning has made us question the meaning of gathering at church and the essentials of church services, and at the same time, priests who had been busy until now, were able to set aside more time for learning with the congregants.  Perhaps it might have led to ministry opportunity for those who have difficulty in going to church on Sundays due to work.”  Prof. Kohara states, “Worships are not just about listening to sermons, but a place to reconfirm that the church is the body of Christ and that everyone is connected to the body of Christ.  When thinking about this, we need to wonder if the online system is enough.  We purposely give up our freedom and gather at church every week.  We must continually show that in inconvenient churches are things not available out in the world.” 

From an Anglican point of view, I had the privilege of introducing the pastoral practice of Bishop Makoto Uematsu of the Diocese of Hokkaido.  I stressed the importance of having that specific connection through a respectful, one-on-one, face-to-face communion. 

For all of us having experienced the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, we came in accordance with the fact that it is the missionary and social responsibility of the church as to how we are going to relate new theology in socially applicable terms. 

The Rt Revd Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara

The Wheat Field (2021.04)

I am grateful for being able to visit each church within the diocese as a bishop.  During Advent, I was given an opportunity to visit Ichinomiya Holy Light Church for the first time in 30 years.  Currently, the new chapel under construction, but we were able to hold our last Holy Eucharist with the bishop’s ceremony at the old chapel with the congregation. 

Before the service, I had found a slightly rusty dinosaur object placed in the shrubbery in front of the church.  When I asked a parishioner about it, I was told it was a graduation work made by Mami Kataoka, the daughter of Reverend Ken Kikuta who had pastored for quite some years, and someone I had known since I had worked as a chief staff at Nagoya Youth Center.

Mami is now a world-class curator, and currently works as the Director of Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, Tokyo and President of International Committee for Museum and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM).  Just the other day, I had visited the special exhibition at Mori Art Museum under the direct guidance of Director Kataoka.  A full-page interview article was published in the evening edition of Asahi Shimbun dated January 5, but what I was impressed about from the article was that “her name ‘Mami (meaning truth) is derived from a passage in the New Testament.” 

At the end of last year, it was announced that Mami has been appointed as the Artistic Director of “Aichi 2022” (formerly Aichi Triennale), an international festival to be held in 2022.  At a press conference, she emphasized the importance of confronting the current issues to shed light on the history of various mankind not only of the future but of the past, the novel coronavirus, and discrimination and inequality against racial, gender and ethnic differences, and further went on to say that “to live is to continue learning.  It is to meet the unknown world, diverse values, and the overwhelming beauty.”

I believe this is surely her “prayer.”  Here it is, a message that should be sent out from us the church.

The Rt Revd Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara

The Wheat Field (2021.02)

Allow me to introduce the title of the new bishop’s column, “Mugi-batake (Wheat Field).”  The bimonthly newsletter I had been sending out to everyone of the diocese while I was a student at the Central Theological College was titled “Mugi-batake (Wheat Field).”  (The title had been teased by Bishop Hoyo as “doku-mugi (poisonous wheat).  I appreciate your kind support.

With that aside, at the bishop’s consecration and installation held on October 24 of last year, I gave a greeting in Japanese, English, and Korean.  Each content was different, but I received many questions about what I had said in Korean, so I will introduce an outline below.

“I myself have learned a great deal from the relationship with the Anglican Church of Korea and the ecumenical youths, whom I met about 40 years ago.  The Diocese of Chubu has also concluded a sister-diocese relationship with the Anglican Diocese of Seoul in 1995 and has since supported its deep mutual relationship.  In 1996, the Anglican Church in Japan adopted the ‘Declaration Regarding War Responsibility of the Anglican Church’ during the General Synod, in which it confessed to its crime by admitting the responsibility of supporting and consenting tacitly to the colonial rule and war of aggression.  Afterwards, the Anglican Church in Japan welcomed many priests from the Anglican Church of Korea, who have made significant contributions to missionary activities throughout Japan.  Even in the Diocese of Chubu, Revd. Yoonsic Jung and Revd. Sunhee Kim are putting their hearts into offering pastoral care.  I do hope that Diocese of Chubu Anglican Church in Japan, Anglican Church of Korea, and the ecumenical will be able to further deepen various exchanges.”

Currently, missionary activities and pastoral care are not possible within any of the dioceses of Anglican Church in Japan without the presence of priests from Korea.  However, we would like to, at all times, be aware of the meaning of its realization and history.

The Rt Revd Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara

To All of the Diocese of Chubu

I would like to thank you all for your prayers and cooperation during the Consecration and Installation held on October 24th.  It was postponed twice due to the spread of the new coronavirus disease, but through the hard work and preparation by the people of the Province and dioceses, it has been successfully completed.  On the day, the Archbishop of Japan’s main Christian religious sect and chairpersons also attended, and we received many congratulatory messages from all over the world.  I was able to realize once again that we, the Diocese of Chubu, are supported by, not only the Anglican Church in Japan, but also by the Anglican Communion, and the ecumenical connection that transcend denominations.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Bishop Ichiro Shibusawa, who has guided our diocese for 10 years, and to Bishop Osamu Irie, who has managed the Diocese of Chubu, which was within the feeling of anxiety for the last 7 months.  In addition, although I will continue to work at Rikkyo University for the time being, and with the support of ministers and congregations of the Diocese of Chubu, including Reverend Hirozumi Doi being appointed as the Archdeacon, I will do my best to take on this position as bishop.  I would appreciate your continued kind support.

On a personal note, my youngest son was born by Caesarean section in a hospital in Okaya.  However, he was not breathing at birth and was in a state of severe asphyxia.  Immediately treatments in ICU were started, and the doctor showed me an MRI of the brain but it was pure white.  The doctor had told me that no primary treatment could be conducted and only secondary treatment would be possible. 

The Gospel for the Sunday after my son was born was a scene where Peter and others who were fishing were called by Jesus as disciples.  When I was meditating on the gospel, I was made aware about one thing.  “What kind of a net does a fisher have to catch people?” “The net of a fisher of men” is spun with the thread of God’s love, and no one spills out of that net. Even if my son must go on carrying various burdens from now on, he will be firmly supported in the net of love and will never spill out of it.

Maybe Jesus was telling his disciples and us to become fishers with such a “net.”  And when the resurrected Jesus told Peter and the others to go fish, perhaps it was to confirm whether the disciples had become of persons who were able to possess that “net.”  In fact, the net was full of 153 large fish, but it had not been broken even though they had fished so much.  Lord Jesus ascended to heaven after confirming all his disciples had become fishermen with a net of love that would never spill out.  I was given this conscious awareness.

In this sense, to live according to the Lord, that is, to love God and to be a person who loves people, is to be fishers of men.  “Be the one with a net which no one spills out.”  That is the teaching of the Lord.  Stretching this net to the fullest is essentially the sign of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You are all also “fishers of men” called by the Lord.  A fisher with a net spun with the thread of God’s love and trust.  You hold the well-spun net which no one spills out.  Let us pray and work together so that each one of us will be able to connect each net to finally become the “Diocese of Chubu,” a “network” of God’s love.

The Rt Revd Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara

The Meaning of the Church Unchanging for 90 years

Okaya St. Barnabas Church, on last November 16th, was registered as one of the “Registered Tangible Cultural Asset” of the country.  It was evaluated as a structure inheriting the traditions of the Church of England, as well as an architecture relating the local historical culture, such as the tatami-style chapel built upon the requests of female factory workers who once supported Okaya’s silk-yarn production.  Due to such, it was reported on all newspapers and television.

90 years ago, on November 20, 1928, Okaya St. Barnaba’s Church was consecrated.  Reverend Hollis Corey, a missionary from the Anglican Church of Canada, was doing evangelical work in the region of Lake Suwa at the time, and was forced to make a decision as to where to build the church in the Suwa Region.  Although Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada (MSCC) had ordered to build a church in Kamisuwa, an area more famous as a lively spa resort area, Revd. Corey thought of building a church for those who carry the heaviest burdens in the Suwa area, the female factory workers of Okaya Silk Factory.  The Missionary Association, on the other hand, opposed the fact that the female workers are seasonal workers and not fixed, therefore, will not be financially supportive nor be able to maintain the church.  However, Revd. Corey responded by saying, “Money issues will somehow be taken care of by God.”  

At the factory, work is 16 hours a day, either standing up or sitting on a hard wooden-chair.  We wanted them to feel as if they have returned to their home at least when they are at church, so Japanese tatami-mats were laid in the sanctuary.  Koyoshi Fukazawa, a congregant from that time used to say, “When I would rush to church, a blue-eyed priest would be waiting for me below the stairs, and thanked me for coming and hugged me.  I could hardly understand the sermon, but the warmth felt from the hug would move me to tears.  Church was certainly heaven.”  

On February 2 this year, a baptismal confirmation ceremony was held at Okaya St. Barnaba’s Church for Ms. Wang Xu, who has come to work in Japan from China. She is from Qingzhou City, Shandong Province, China.  She has been working at a piston ring manufacturing factory in Okaya since 2016.  There are about 60 Chinese female workers at the factory.  She continued attending this church which she happened to find passing along the way.  Her return to China in March was decided, and at her request, we decided to hold her baptismal ceremony.  Currently, since there are no Anglican churches in China, I was worried about her not being able to receive the rite of confirmation.  However, Bishop Peter Ichiro Shibusawa came to Okaya to hold her baptismal and confirmation ceremony.  She is not fluent in Japanese, so I used the Japanese-Chinese baptismal and confirmation liturgies translated by Reverend David Shintaro Ichihara.  To my questions, she would respond in Chinese.  Her Christian name is “Maria.”  The cathedral was filled with an indescribable emotion.

A reporter from the Chunichi Newspaper asked what this church had meant to her.  She replied, “This church was the best place.  Friendly and warm, I always felt relaxed.”

Okaya is no longer a female silk-reeling factory workers town.  However, currently there are many female foreign workers from China and other countries who live here.  With also the joy of being approved as a historic cultural asset, I would like to thank that this church is continuing, not as a historical asset from the past, but for the mission in commonality with 90 years ago.

Rev Prof Dr Francis of Assisi Renta Nishihara
Rector in Charge, Okaya St. Barnaba’s Church